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PLOT SYNOPSIS AND NOTES FOR THE COLOR PURPLE
Nettie tells Celie about the new clothing that Corrine bought her. Although she works for the minister and his wife and takes care of their children, she is not made to feel like their maid. They treat her with respect and eagerly teach her new things. In fact, she says "there is no beginning or end to teaching and learning and working-it all runs together."
Before leaving for Africa, Nettie tells how she went with the family to New York and visited many churches in Harlem, trying to raise money for the mission effort. The African-American people were very willing to help the people of Ethiopia. Samuel tells Nettie that their family will have an advantage in their mission work, for they are Black like the Africans; he also explains that working to better the Blacks in Africa uplifts Black people everywhere.
Nettie then tells Celie some of the things she has learned. First, she has been amazed to discover that the Bible is not just about white people; the inhabitants of Ethiopia and Egypt were "colored" and lived on the African continent in the time of Jesus, and the "white" Europeans lived in another part of the world. She also tells how Jesus "had hair like lamb's wool," tight and curly like the hair of a Black. Additionally, Nettie explains that there is a white woman missionary who has worked in Africa for over twenty years; unfortunately, the Mission Society of New York did not even mention her work, but only the work of white men. The female missionary talks about her love of Africa; but the men only speak of their duty to the Africans, never of their love.
In this chapter, Walker introduces for the first time the idea of solidarity among people of color all over the world, a concept that was emphasized by Marcus Garvey in the 1930s. Garvey was a Jamaican who immigrated to New York and founded the first Black Nationalist movement. He thought that Black Americans should return to Africa where they would not be treated with such oppression. This movement was popular in Harlem, where Nettie had been staying before her departure to Africa.
This letter reveals that Nettie is learning many new things. Like Celie, she had always believed that God, the angels, and everybody else in the Bible were white. She has now learned that there are stories in the Bible about people of color who lived in Africa during Christ's time on earth. She also has a new image of Jesus, with his hair like lamb's wool. These insights into Nettie's black heritage prepare her for the education she will receive about her ethnic identity in Africa. Nettie is also developing a consciousness about the unfair treatment of women in the world, as indicated in her story about the white women missionary who receives no recognition for her work in Africa.
This letter from Nettie to Celie is filled with happiness and wonder. She first tells Celie how big and gentle Samuel is and how lucky Corrine is to be his wife. Nettie then writes about her two- week voyage across the Atlantic in a large ship; she and the minister's family first went to England, before departing for Africa. During their stay in Great Britain, they visited missionary societies; Nettie also visited a museum that had many amazing artifacts from countries in Africa.
On the long journey to Africa, the ship stopped at several ports, including Senegal and Monrovia. Nettie thought about how Africans were sold into slavery and shipped to America from such ports. She wonders how most African-American people feel in relation to Africans, their ancestors.
In this letter, Nettie is exposed to new wonders. She travels across the Atlantic in a ship, arriving in London, England after a two- week voyage. It must have seemed like a miracle for this small- town Southern Black woman from Georgia. When Nettie visits the British Museum in London, she is overwhelmed. Within its walls are treasures from cultures the British have either colonized, conquered, or helped to enslave for several hundred years. Nettie is amazed to find that many of the artifacts are from Africa. She also naively accepts the English people's assurance that the artifacts were taken from cultures now dead and gone; such an explanation is obviously an imperialist justification of their taking advantage of African cultures.
Walker seems to have chosen the idea of making Nettie a missionary as a plausible way to get her to Africa. Before her arrival there, she is totally naive about the role missionaries played in the colonization of Africa. During her stay and her interactions with Africans, she will come to realize the nature of European imperialism and the missionaries' role in it. In order to take over the land and control the people of Africa, European countries convinced themselves that they were actually conferring the gift of civilization and salvation, saving a whole continent of heathen peoples. After Nettie stays in Africa for awhile, her unthinking acceptance of the Judeo-Christian religion will change significantly. Her understanding of Black slavery will also shift.
The main emphasis in this letter is Nettie's sense of security, happiness, and wonder. She praises the family for her opportunity to travel with them and says that Samuel is a big, but gentle, man. This is the first foreshadowing of Nettie's later attraction and marriage to Samuel.